Today’s ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court holding that only marriage for gays and lesbians, and not “Vermont-style” civil unions, will be sufficient to guarantee constitutional guarantees of equal treatment in the Commonwealth, is the latest in the roller-coaster ride that characterizes news stories around queer issues.
From the absolutely horrific upholding in Kansas of a 17-year prison sentence for a young man who, at 18, had oral sex with a 14-year-old boy (the sentence if the 14-year-old had been a girl would be a maximum of 15 months), with its explicit ruling that the state can punish homosexual sodomy significantly more harshly than heterosexual; to the sad ruling in Florida upholding that state’s right to deny gay people the right to adopt, while 3,000 children remain parentless in foster homes or state facilities; to the new Ohio same-sex marriage ban, one of the strictest such laws in the country, recent news has seemed uniformly bleak and regressive.
And even today’s news from Massachusetts, so positive on the one hand, nevertheless leaves me dreading the continuing backlash, already begun around the country and fanned by the winds of Bush’s State of the Union Address.
Most frightening were the comments of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, whose statement read, in part:
“We’ve heard from the court, but not from the people. The people of Massachusetts should not be excluded from a decision as fundamental to our society as the definition of marriage.”
Why frightening? Because our top elected officials–even our President, in his castigation of “activist Judges”–seem to understand so little about our political framework, and that the Constitution and the judicial branch are designed specifically to protect our rights against “the people,” when that term, as here, is used to mean “the majority.” That latter phrase isn’t used by these officials, of course, because it so clearly evokes its frequent antecedent, “the tyranny of,” which they would prefer to keep unstated.
The legislature of my own home, Virginia–with so glorious an early history and so repugnant a current political and ideological climate–is spending way too much time in this legislative cycle condemning gays and lesbians. The state already bans gay marriages, yet the House of Delegates recently overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging Congress to propose a federal constitutional amendment “protecting the sanctity of marriage” (whatever that means in this age of Britney Spears and Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire), and the state Senate is considering the resolution now. The House also is considering a bill, the “Affirmation of Marriage Act,” that would prevent the state from recognizing marriages, civil unions, partnership contracts or other arrangements that provide some or all of the benefits of marriage. One delegate is introducing a bill that would make it a crime, punishable by up to a year in prison, for gay couples to be married elsewhere, return to Virginia and sue within the courts for legal recognition. The same delegate has introduced other legislation that would make public sex a misdemeanor when heterosexual and a felony when homosexual.
But I want to be happy for the ruling in Massachusetts, I really do. And besides, tonight Jeff and I go to a wedding… of sorts, since we’ve got front row seats to see Mamma Mia! at the National Theater. Yippee!